A few months ago I saw a video promising 78 minutes of ‘The Best of Pachelbel’. Oh hooray, 5 minutes of canon, 3 minutes of gigue and 70 minutes of other works from his prolific output. Er, no … 75 minutes of canon, 3 minutes of gigue and zero of other works. Can you even name another work? I had, and maybe still have, a volume of organ music.
About two months ago I wrote about covers of pop songs, with special reference to The Eagles’ Hotel California. Many of the same comments apply to classical music, though the term cover is probably not appropriate. We refer to performances, renditions and interpretations (of the composer’s original) and transcriptions and arrangements (someone else’s changing of the original in some way). Pachelbel’s Canon is surely in the top 10 of most arranged and (over-)used works. The challenge of arranging this work is that 3 independent upper lines don’t fit naturally together on any one other instrument. Of the versions in the video, the most convincing were those which kept the original lines (one for string orchestra and one for brass ensemble) and those which totally reimagined the work (one for guitar and one for string quartet which ended up in Brahmsian territory, as far as I can remember – I’m not going to spend another 78 minutes relistening). Most of them were wishy-washy. Music should never be wishy-washy.
I was going to write far more about classical arrangements in general and this one in particular, but I won’t. I’ll leave you with this for those who like it and this for those who don’t.